Over the last few days, in the course of curating the news for the onpoli.ca project, I had noticed a series of stories about beef products being recalled due to possible E.coli contamination. With each successive story (e.g. this from Sunday) it seemed the recall had widened and the number of products involved had increased. Here's today's news:
Federal food safety bureaucrats waited nearly two weeks to issue a public health alert after learning that beef from an Alberta plant was contaminated with a potentially deadly bacteria.
Officials with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency revealed Monday they launched an in-depth review of the sanitation and controls at the XL Foods facility in Brooks only after their counterparts south of the border found two more contaminated samples of animal trimmings destined for ground beef.
The product was infected with E. coli 0157.
You may recall that during its first mandate, the Harper government revamped the meat inspection process..
...shifting federal meat inspectors into an oversight role and leaving companies to implement their own methods...
That change in policy became rather controversial.
Following the deaths of 22 people in 2008 after an outbreak of listeriosis linked to tainted product from Maple Leaf Foods in Toronto, there was an independent investigation which was to be followed by an even more thorough review "to sort out the roles of federal departments and agencies in food safety."
To return to today's news, this is a comment from one Bob Jackson, described as a "senior executive with the Public Service Alliance of Canada and veteran meat inspector":
"They should have taken action immediately when they had that positive result. Under the CFIA's new regulations and procedures, those decisions are left to the company, but there was a time when a federally-appointed, independent inspector would have tagged that product and insisted it wasn't going anywhere."
It sounds very much as though the original policy change, made before the listeriosis outbreak and subsequent investigation, is still in effect.
The Calgary Herald reports the initial contamination being detected by USDA inspectors on Sept. 3rd. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency determined on the 12th that:
...the company had been deviating from the control and testing procedures it said it was following to prevent product from becoming contaminated or getting out of the plant.
Since the initial health alert on Sept. 16th, the recall has been reissued and widened six times. Fortunately there have been no deaths linked to this incident. But how many times do we have to learn all over again that having industries police themselves in contexts like these doesn't work? And what, exactly, did that investigation into the listeriosis outbreak actually accomplish?